A program is a cluster of ongoing operations that have a common goal. A group of projects and ongoing operations are managed in a coordinated way so that benefits are achieved which would not have happened by managing the projects individually. Programs require investment for the advancement of the organization’s future, and to enhance current capabilities.
Project Management versus Program Management
A project is a temporary undertaking consisting of a sequence of tasks having defined outputs and deliverables, a set amount of resources having a definite start and end date. The project manager oversees the operations and ongoing activities within a project.
Program management is the coordinated management of a program to achieve the set goals and benefits. A program manager oversees and provides guidance to various project managers and promotes coordination between them. He is responsible for identifying, rationalizing, controlling, and monitoring the inter-dependencies between various projects, dealing with escalated issues that are outside the scope of project managers, and managing the benefits yielded by each project towards the organization.
Although a program manager needs to have good project management skills, he or she is not necessarily handling projects. He or she is handling the risks and benefits of every project and deciding whether or not a project needs to be scrapped. A program manager works for the best interest of the organization, rather than individual teams. However, a program is successful only if its components or projects are successful. Below are a few key points from which you can understand why program management is essential for an organization to execute their business strategy.
Program Management in Organizations
Organizations planning to introduce project management can follow a few steps:
In order to identify a program within your organization, you can make use of any of the two approaches: top-down or bottom-up. The top-down approach essentially teaches you to start with a strategy and assess whether the initiatives of a particular project go beyond its functional boundaries and involve stakeholders with different areas of interests. The intent would be to bring about significant changes within the organization.
The bottom-up process involves assessing stand-alone projects, which are inter-related and dependent on each other, and then grouping them under one program. This means all stand-alone projects will be working on similar lines following the same strategy.
Once you identify a program and define the key project benefits, it is important that you decide upon a few approaches to achieve them. Assess each approach, analyze the risks and benefits associated with them and select one that best suits your project requirements.
Identify an Appropriate Program Manager
It is of paramount importance to hire the best person for managing the program. Select an inter-related set of initiatives as your program and ensure that the results are aligned with the goals of your organization. Hence, a program manager should have various types of skill sets. His knowledge should not be limited to project management.
Benefits of Implementing Program Management
Provides a Comprehensive View
Program management provides a much more comprehensive view of the organization when compared to project management. Quite a few projects affecting the overall structure and functionalities of an organization together form a program. Every project will have a different set of tasks to be completed which are designed to achieve a set of goals. The manager’s responsibility is to ensure that one project’s goals do not come in the way of another. Hence, the person managing all these projects will have a comprehensive view of the organization and its business.
Works towards Organizational Benefits
A program manager oversees the ongoing activities within all the projects under him or her and evaluates them. A project should not be done just for the sake of it. Its returns should be measured well before giving a go-ahead. Any and every kind of request should not be agreed upon. Rather, the requests should be assessed from an organizational standpoint. Program manager should evaluate each request to ensure that the project has potential to enhance profit levels, increase customer satisfaction, and bring in benefits for the organization.
At the onset of a project, the concerned project manager takes out time to set the rules for communication and outlines the work procedures. However, in case of programs, the person leading it sets the rules in a consistent manner for all projects running under him or her. Hence, the project manager does not need to allocate extra time at the beginning to decide upon the methods of communication and work procedures. Once a project is undertaken, work begins immediately after the team formation as all methods are formalized from before.
A program manager’s responsibility also includes saving costs and looking for potential within projects to earn benefits for the organization as a whole. When a new project request comes in, a program manager not only looks at the individual benefits and costs of that particular project, but also whether the project can be leveraged for the existing projects and processes of the organization. For instance, one project develops software that sends automatic progress reports to managers and everyone concerned with the project. Once the software performs with success, a program manager handling several projects can use the same software for all projects, instead of spending time, cash and resources on creating a new one.
Program management is a crucial link between the portfolios of strategic services in an organization and their component projects. By defining a program, there are significant advantages in support of an objective of subdividing component projects, than undertaking individual projects. Overall, program management strengthens the alignment towards organizational business strategy, ensures better control and provides more focus towards benefits realization.